By Ruby Wilks, Lauren Bradley, Pam Chasuwan, & Nabil Sirur
Opening statements were heard June 12, 2019, in Department 27 for a hit-and-run case that gravely injured SFPD Officer Elia Lewin-Tankel in October 2017. Public Defender Alex Lilien represents Willie Flannigan, who is charged with assault with a deadly weapon resulting in great bodily injury, though he was initially charged with attempted murder. He faces a possible life sentence.
Attorney Alex Lilien stated that the San Francisco police have a history with Willie Flannigan, claiming that the police were biased against his client from the beginning of the investigation.
In October 2014, Mr. Flannigan was beaten up by police officers, including Sergeant Ryan, after he was falsely accused of a hit-and-run on an off-duty officer by the name of Sergeant Holder. Sergeant Holder called police officers to handle the matter, but instead, the officers physically assaulted Mr. Flannigan by choking him and kicking him in the face.
The defendant alleges that police used excessive force. The defense counsel additionally produced an image from after the altercation showing Mr. Flannigan’s swollen eye socket and lips. Mr. Flannigan filed a federal lawsuit against the police officers who physically assaulted him; the lawsuit is pending.
Defense counsel informed the jurors that there have been several complaints from the community regarding Sergeant Ryan verbally harassing African-American females.
As far as the 2017 incident, police officers reported a 221—person in possession of a firearm. Sergeant Ryan was the one who called in Sergeant Conway and other officers, reporting that the suspect had a gun.
Officer Elia Lewin-Tankel was on his police bicycle as Mr. Flannigan made a left turn out of a parking garage. Attorney Alex Lilien noted it was difficult to see when the officer collided with Mr. Flannigan’s vehicle. The jury was also shown pictures from the angle of the plaza garage exit, illustrating how difficult would be to see a bicyclist coming as Mr. Flannigan was turning left.
The defense stated that after the accident Mr. Flannigan feared for his life and decided to continue driving because of his past of being beaten by police officers and because he didn’t intend to hit the officer on the bike.
The prosecution, represented by Deputy District Attorney Asha Jameson, called a handful of SFPD officers to the stand that was on duty the day of the incident to outline for the jury the events leading up to the vehicle collision.
The DA contends that the defendant was driving a tan Lexus SUV that evaded SFPD efforts to conduct a traffic stop after they received a report of an individual with a gun, and that in doing so the defendant hit Officer Lewin-Tankel with his vehicle and sped off.
The jury was shown an aerial map of the neighborhood where the pursuit took place, as well as body-worn camera footage from an officer at the scene. The defense questioned the officers regarding the nature of the report about a person with a gun, but it has not yet been explained where that information came from. The defense also questioned officers regarding the civil rights lawsuit the defendant filed against the SFPD.
Deputy DA Jameson called a witness who only spoke Portuguese, whose car was hit by the Lexus SUV. A Portuguese interpreter accompanied her throughout her testimony. She claimed she was driving on a street when a light gold SUV approached her car at high speed and crashed into the left side of her car. The surveillance video was able to capture the moment when the accident occurred. The SUV then continued driving. She stopped her car and began looking for a police officer.
Next, the DA brought in Officer David V. who partnered with Officer Elia for about two years. The two officers were on duty together, both on bikes, the day that the incident occurred. However, Officer David ended up separated from Elia, so he didn’t witness the accident. Officer David cried on the stand when describing the moment he saw his partner on the ground.
The DA also brought in Officer Sandon Cheung who specializes in retrieving video footage for evidence. Officer Cheung compiled over ten minutes of video clips of the light gold SUV starting at a Shell gas station. Cameras at the gas station captured the suspect’s face while he walked into the convenience store. Several surveillance cameras on the street captured the SUV traveling at a high speed on the road and, at some points, traveling the wrong direction on a one-way street.
The trial is expected to extend for approximately two more weeks as the parties continue to present their cases to the jury. Deputy DA Jameson noted that Officer Lewin-Tankel’s father will be flying in to testify in the coming weeks.